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Couples who have shared more than 50 years of marriage offer insights into their relationships

There are all kinds of things married couples do to keep the sparks alive in a relationship, but the most important element, according to those who should know, is simple. You do what works.

That was the collective conclusion reached by three couples in the Lynn area who have all been married more than 50 years, and who agreed to offer insights into their relationships Friday on Valentine’s Day.

Some couples do everything together, while some can handle it, and some might even prefer it, if they’re allowed to go off on their own, or go out with friends.

Nancy and Dean Brothers sit in their Lynn home on Thursday night. (Olivia Falcigno)

“I want him to have his sports,” said Nancy Brothers about her husband, Dean. The Brothers will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in June, and one of the keys, she said, is they give each other space to pursue their own interests. 

“He loved to go out and play golf, and have his sports,” she said. “And I like to go shopping, and go to the theaters. I think it’s important to leave room for the other’s likes and interests.”

Johnny and Barbara Walker stand in the door front of their Lynn home on Thursday afternoon. (Olivia Falcigno)

On the other hand, there are couples like Johnny and Barbara Walker, who decided, from Day One in their marriage, to display a fierce independence streak.

“We were married by a justice of the peace,” said Barbara, 77, who has been married to her husband for 55 years. “There was so much going on that we just decided ‘to heck with it.’ 

“So,” she said, “everything in this house we bought ourselves. We weren’t given anything.”

Valentine’s Day isn’t complete without stories of origin. For some, it was love at first sight while for others it was anything but.

John and Velma Gambale of Swampscott have been married for more than 70 years. (Spenser Hasak)

“(Velma Parsons) gave me a chocolate ice cream cone at Doanes (in Swampscott),” said John Gambale. “I thought she was cute. Look at her. She’s still cute.”

“He took me home to Saugus,” said the now-Velma Gambale, who married her husband 70 years ago, in a double wedding ceremony with his sister, Nicolina and her husband, John Meere.

“We had the reception at a place called Shadowland on Union Street in Lynn,” he said. “We had ham sandwiches and free beer.”

Instant sparks might have flown for the Gambales, but it wasn’t quite that way for the Walkers.

“I was at a friend’s house on Groveland Street, in Lynn, and about a block away two kids got into a fight. We went over to watch, and he (Johnny Walker) was there,” Barbara Walker said,.

“At first, I wanted nothing to do with him,” she said. “We all piled into one car and went down to the beach, and he kept asking me for my phone number. And I wouldn’t give it to him. And I told my girlfriend not to give it to him either.”

But Johnny persisted, and the girlfriend finally relented. 

That was in 1959, the year Johnny (who, despite his name, does not drink scotch) graduated from Everett High. Five years later, they were married.

The Brothers met at the old Willey House in Swampscott, on Humphrey Street. They began dating almost immediately.

“We pretty much committed to one another right away,” said Nancy Brothers, “and we got married in 1960.”

Circumstances differed vastly among the three couples. Gambale was just coming out of the Navy when he got married, “and I had $300 muster pay, and used it to buy this land (on Buena Vista Street) from Durkee Mower with it. Been here ever since.”

The last of the three couples to get married were the Walkers (1964) and music played a big part then — as it does now.

They are both devotees of “doo-wop” music, and basement that is a veritable treasure trove of memories, such as Johnny’s model cars, and snapshots of his brother, who played guitar with Lou Rawls. Barbara was among the throngs of people who went to Manning Bowl in 1966 to see the Rolling Stones (“I always preferred them over the Beatles”). 

Where was Johnny?

“Working for the MBTA,” he said. “That’s what I did until I retired.”

The Walkers have a playful relationship, which, Johnny says, is an extension of their belief that “to have a good relationship, you have to be friends first,” which is something the Gambales also echo.

“We’re very rarely apart for too long,” Barbara Walker said. “We travel together, and by ourselves, because we don’t want to be tied into what everybody else wants to do. It’s just easier for us that way.”

Gambale gave an even easier formula for success.

She’s the boss,” he said. “She raised our three kids (John Carol and Donna). I worked six days a week, 10 hours a day as a landscaper and plowing and shoveling snow. She raised the kids.”

Velma Gambale also cautioned, “you have to be good friends, be good communicators, be nice parents, and nice neighbors.”

“Never go to bed mad at each other,” John Gambale said. “That’s important.”

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